I love Speyside whisky but am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of The Glenrothes. This is despite the fact that I recently drove within about 10 miles of the distillery, so to an extent it is a shame that I had not sent for this sample sooner. I would have loved to stop by to get a couple of pictures and take a tour. On the other hand, it is a brilliant opportunity to claim a reason to return to Speyside in the near future.
When I started my research into this particular brand I was not disappointed. As with every whisky I have come across, this one is steeped in history and intrigue. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a distillery that dates back to 1879 it has had its fair share of trials and tribulations to contend with, including a number of fires, slumps during economic crises and our American cousins' ill-fated experiment with prohibition. However, one element of the distillery's history grabs the attention more vividly than any of the others - The Ghost!
A child by the name of Biawa "Byeway" Makalaga was rescued from the Boer War by Colonel Grant of Rothes and brought back to Scotland in the early 20th Century. A popular figure in the local community he served as the Colonel's helper and Scotland became his home. He died in 1972. It is said that in 1979, after the installation of two new stills, Byeway was spotted in the distillery! While the apparition is not said to have been malevolent, it was interesting enough to gather the interest of academics who reported all sorts of trouble with ley-lines. A quick readjustment and the spirit was laid to rest.
Now, while I am a sceptic in all thigs supernatural, and the only type of spirit I will countenance being laid to rest is new make being put down to mature, there is romanticism and heritage in this story that I find deeply attractive. For that reason, when I lifted the glass to take my first sip of this dram I took part in the tradition of A Toast to the Ghost. It is this type of story, anecdote and tradition that I feel sets whisky head and shoulders above any other drink you might care to name.
As to the whisky itself. Notably it is not age statemented in the traditional manner. Glenrothes pride themselves on their vintage range, within which this dram is counted. There is something wonderfully honest about this system. The fact that this is a Single Vintage means that it comes from barrels exclusively laid down in 2001. This method of labelling is a nod to the Berry Brothers and Rudd, the owners of the brand, and their work within the wine market. This particular expression is 12 years old.
As to the whisky itself I would offer the following notes:
Appearance: Golden Straw
Nose: Vanilla, sweet notes (perhaps butterscotch?), stone fruits with oak and hint of pepper
Palate: Sweet notes of vanilla to the front with a buttery smoothness that gives way fairly swiftly to a hint of spice.
Finish: Lingering spice remains with a hint of smoke
I note that the official tasting notes on the Glenrothes website do not have any smoke whatsoever on the chart but interestingly the community appears to disagree. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my own notes were not massively askew when compared. It was useful to add a couple of drops of water to open up the nose on this one. Guard against adding too much however, as the spirit is only 43% to begin with.
So what is my impression of this whisky? I really liked it and am keen to try more of the Glenrothes range. It has all the characteristics that you would expect from a Speyside with unique features in the form of the expressions to keep things interesting. For me, the most notable thing about this dram was the rapidity with which the sweet notes toned down as the spice warmed up. It gave a best of both worlds quality to the whisky, adding depth and complexity.